Saturday, 21 January 2012

Book Review: Britains Lost Cricket Grounds by Chris Arnot

There's something melancholic about the site of old cricket grounds. Even now I find it hard to pass one and not feel the need to avert my eyes, especially when that ground holds personal memories. About ten miles from our house is one where I played my first good all-round match in Scotland, scoring a quick 40 and taking four wickets. Three years later it had gone, the club folded. The field still lies undeveloped, yet the grass is knee high and any evidence of its past is long gone. Similar tales can be told of several grounds near where I grew up in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, some now the sites of retail parks or housing developments.

Chris Arnot's new book on first-class and club grounds that are no more is a joy from start to finish, yet one that, for a cricket fan, leaves you increasingly wistful as you work through it. Packed with photographs that transport you back to times when most communities had a sports ground and cricket was deemed a social necessity, one wonders if progress is all it is made out to be. The beautiful ground at Hastings, now an anodyne shopping centre, the lovely one at Southampton that disappeared as the Rose Bowl took shape and many others that used to be on the first-class circuit. The old Bass ground at Burton is there, but so is a truly picturesque one at Edale in the Peak District. There are many others that you may recognise and remember, like the old John Player ground at Nottingham, together with those at Beeston, Castleton and Newstead. The section on the latter contained the books only error, with the picture on page 96 most definitely not from the 1950s - the hairstyles suggest the 1970s to me. The section on Sheffield is especially sad. It was anything but scenic, but steeped in history.

One of the strengths of the book is that the author has provided a wide selection of grounds from all corners of the country, many of them playing host to some of the greatest performances in the history of the game. Some were home to clubs that thrived and won leagues and cups with regularity, yet times changed, as did landowners, and there were other uses for that land, other development opportunities and plenty of short-sighted individuals.

Chris Arnot has produced some lovely text alongside the photographs, Informative and witty, he shows himself an excellent writer (as befits someone who has written on a range of subjects for the major broadsheets) and for me this book is an absolute gem, one I shall re-read many times in the future.

As the end of the book approached I was astonished to see the site of the Scottish Parliament as it once was, a cricket ground. I recently worked there for 18 months and we would go out into the park at lunchtimes during the summer and play knockabout games of cricket, all of us oblivious to the fact that where we played was once the splendid Royal High Cricket Club ground.

I would recommend this book whole-heartedly and will defy anyone to get to the last page without feeling the slightest bit wistful for days gone by. The publishers are to be congratulated for producing a book of genuine beauty and the author for his considerable and thought-provoking research.

Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds: the hallowed homes of cricket that will never see another ball bowled is written by Chris Arnot and published by Aurum Press. It is available from all good book shops and through Amazon, where it is priced £13.98.

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